I was interested by a recent article on the Liturgical Arts Journal about the traditional custom of spreading on feast days bay or box or myrtle leaves in advance of processions in the churches of Rome. The article can be read at Romanitas: The Traditional Use of Fragrant Greenery for Processions
Quite apart from its own interest this had a topical resonance for me as up to and including the coronation in 1821 of King George IV the procession from Westminster Hall into Westminster Abbey was led by the King’s Herb Strewer and her six assistants who scattered sweet smelling plant material in advance of those coming after them along the carpeted processional way. There is more from contemporary sources about the Herb Strewer and her part in the proceedings of the 1821 Coronation from the notes accompanying the National Trust website about the print of Miss Fellowes in the collection at Belton House in Lincolnshire which can be seen at Miss Fellowes (b.c.1771) the Herb-strewer and her ladies at the Coronation of King George IV
The article on Wikipedia at Herb Strewer gives the seventeenth century as the origin of the custom. They are clearly depicted and described - The Kings Herb-woman, & her 6 Maids, with baskets of sweet herbs & flowers, stewing the way - in the Sandford engraving of the procession of King James II at his coronation in 1685. However I suspect it is a much older custom, but not specifically recorded until the Restoration era.
The King’s Herb-strewer and her assistants at the Coronation of King George IV in 1821
Image: Just Curious
I do not think, alas, we shall see their successors on May 6th, even for a monarch as keen on gardens and the environment as His Majesty. However, as The Times reports, the Fellowes family consider themselves to be the custodians of the tradition and have sought in the person of Jessica Fellowes to be appointed as His Majesty’s Herb-strewer. The article can be seen at Downton Abbey creator’s niece wants a role at King’s coronation
ONE OF MY EARLIEST MEMORIES IS OF
A CORPUS CHRISTI PROCESSION IN 1958,
WHEREBY, IN FRONT OF THE PRIEST
CARRYING THE MONSTRANCE, A TEAM OF YOUNG
LADIES, BEAUTIFULLY DRESSED IN LONG, WHITE,
FLOWING, GOWNS, SPREAD ROSE PETALS
ON THE GROUND.
ALL THIS WHILST WALKING BACKWARDS !!!
ONE NEVER TURNS ONES BACK ON
THE BLESSED SACRAMENT.
ALLIED TO THIS WAS THE WONDERFUL SIGHT OF
TWO THURIFERS CENSING THE BLESSED SACRAMENT.
ALSO WHILST WALKING BACKWARDS.
DO THEY DO THIS IN THE NOVUS ORDO, ONE ASKS ?
At the Oxford Oratory led Deanery Corpus Christi procession the children scattering petals were so far in front they could go forwards as normal but the pair of thurifers took it in turns to walk backwards vending the Blessed Sacrament, turning as appropriate to hand over. I have done the same thing in Pusey House processions at Ascot Priory in my Anglican days - including once nearly being brained by an overly enthusiastic fellow thurifer who managed to throw in the occasional 360 degree swing…
I should add that both of those processions would count as Novus Ordo rather than being explicitly vetus ordo
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